- Many exercises are new and techniques are exciting to learn.
- The body responds positively to this new stimulus and PRs fly up quickly.
- Strength numbers increase as exercises feed into one another.
- Overall progression develops at a good pace.
For example: Amplified core strength from raising your Front Squat PR and WODs involving high repetitions of Toes-to-Bar may also allow your Back Squat numbers to shoot up as you become stronger .
Then the plateaus may emerge as you begin to hit your natural ceilings with strength work and WODs. So how do you break through them and give yourself the competitive advantage?
1. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
It is a difficult skill to master, to be able to understand the difference between your body telling you to stop because it is in genuine pain, or that it just doesn’t want to finish the WOD – but it will let you know. Make sure you listen to it and be proactive in your training.
2. FOCUS ON LONG TERM TRAINING GOALS AND SHARE THEM
Sharing a goal and working together with a coach, a team, or a group of your CrossFit® friends can often be a great way to smash through these plateaus and enable your full potential. It can be a way to focus together on a single accomplishment, and you avoid the – often destructive – reality of sometimes not hitting hastily made short term goals. If you give yourself a week to add 10kg to your Snatch PR, in all honesty, it’s probably not going to happen. But if you allow yourself a year, and program accordingly for this timeframe, then you will be able to achieve your target.
When you share your goals with others around you, your peers and coaches, they will help you to accomplish them. As you hit your targets the feeling becomes one of shared success.
3. PROGRESSION AND PROGRAMMING
It will help you to position any plateaus on these wider timelines, and then diminish them as obstacles. For example, let’s say you are aiming for a target of 50 unbroken Double Unders, but currently your max number sits at 15, and you are struggling to manage more before your form breaks down.
Working with your coach you go back to basics, relearn the technique, and you include Double Unders into more of your WODs. This forces you to tackle them under a variety of different conditions, levels of exhaustion and heart rates. You maintain the concept of constant variety that lies at the core of CrossFit©, as well as visualising a clear idea of your progress. You can see how your programming is helping you to break through the plateau and reach your goal of 50 unbroken Double Unders.
If you workout 5 days in a row every week, and you smash 5 consecutive metcons at 100% intensity, then although a great challenge, it will probably leave you burnt out in the long run. From Rehband athletes Josh Bridges (an Ex Navy Seal) to Mattie Rogers (US weightlifting star), all high level Sportsmen and women speak about the importance of giving your body time to rest and recover.
Paradoxically, if you are pushing to hit a certain target, but have hit a plateau that you can’t break through, sometimes the best thing to do can be to walk away from it for a short while.
Say you’re aiming for a 150kg Deadlift but it just isn’t happening, your grip keeps failing and you cannot support the weight without resulting to poor form. Take a break from that exercise for a few weeks and concentrate on accessory exercises instead. Increase your kettlebell swings and switch to strict Pull Ups (get that grip nice and wide to strengthen your back). Raise the amount of times that back extensions crop up in your WODs so that they can attack your posterior chain in a new way. When you do go back to starting a new strength cycle, you may be pleasantly surprised when Deadlifts come around again and you decide to make another assault on that 150kg target.
5. UNDERSTAND THAT PROGRESS OCCURS IN SMALL INCREMENTAL STEPS
Trust in the process, enjoy it and take pride in your progressions, however small they are. Do the same for the achievements of your training partners and peers, and use competition as a way to enable everyone to move forward. One kg added to a lift or a second shaved off a WOD time show that you are improving.
Progress takes time, give it time.
6. TRAINING TECHNIQUES: MAKE USE OF SUPPORT DURING WODS AND LIFTS
Use your equipment properly to help the natural strength and movements of your body. If you have a series of WODs that require lots of high reps of similar movements to be completed (such as Wall Balls and Thrusters combined) then use knee sleeves to relieve some of the pressure on this part of your body. It will also augment the movement of your body, and allow you to zone in on completing each WOD effectively. Due to a great interest, Rehband has started a collaboration with CrossFit Inc®. and have recently launched Rehband 2016 CrossFit Games edition Knee sleeves.
7. TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY AND HEALTH
It is always important to look after your body and health, but if you do begin to hit plateaus, it becomes especially important! CrossFit® promotes a holistic approach to health, and it reminds us of the inter-connectivity of our bodies, mental well-being and nutrition. Improvements in one area may result in unexpected leaps and bounds in another.
How To Snatch Balance to Improve Your Snatch – TechniqueWOD
This week on TechniqueWOD, we’re talking about the snatch balance and all of its variations. Overall, these are incredible movements for improving snatching performance.
The basic technique is relatively simple. After a quick dip and drive with the legs, drop and catch the barbell in a full overhead squat position. As you might guess, this movement is fantastic for athletes needing to build confidence and skill in the bottom of the snatch.
Just about everyone can benefit from performing the snatch balance, but there is a clear prerequisite – You must be capable of getting down into a solid, full OH squat position. Take your time. Keep working your mobility.
In time, you will get more comfortable in the bottom, which will have a huge carryover to performance.
Start with the traditional snatch balance. Dip and drive quickly, then drop into a nice overhead squat position.
The heaving snatch balance is a great variation. It’s mostly the same, only the heels should stay on the ground. Overall, the drive off the shoulders is slower and more deliberate, which is great for developing shoulder strength and stability for heavy snatches.
Next up is the pressing snatch balance. Here, the focus is on pushing yourself under the barbell into the squat using your arms, with no initial leg drive and change in barbell height. This is a great assistance exercise for the arms because you get some pressing work done. But this movement is also far more specific to the snatch than a standard press, and will improve performance to a greater degree.
The final snatch balance variation is the drop snatch. The barbell height shouldn’t change at the start. But instead of pressing down, the focus is on a very rapid drop under the barbell. This is a great warm-up drill that you can do with an empty barbell to find your rhythm before the snatch.
- Make sure you sink to the very bottom, with your elbows fully extended and locked the whole time. Stick to simple overhead squats until that’s possible.
- Don’t allow your feet to get too close together, or too far apart on the dive.
- On the drop and catch, make sure the knees track straight over the toes.
- Keep your torso vertical on the dip and drive, just like on your jerk. If the hips come back at all you won’t be able to initiate a strong drive. Likewise, don’t allow your heels to rise or your knees dive inward during the dip.
- All rituals and habits in your snatch should be present when you snatch balance, even down to where you look with your eyes during the lift. Keep the same overall mindset and you’ll get far more carryover.
When to do it
If you’re new to lifting, keep the load light. Snatch balances with about 50-70% of your snatch is a great way to build skill and confidence in the bottom of the snatch. Do these before you snatch to prime position and increase the quality of your snatch reps.
If you’re relatively comfortable in the snatch and you’ve got solid technique, you can use the snatch balance to build strength. Take your heaviest snatch work sets, and then add about 10% extra load (this is variable, so feel free to experiment).
Just the habit of holding a much heavier load overhead will improve your confidence and strength in the snatch. That alone is worth the time.
Want more great info on how to build strength and improve your weightlifting skills? Head on over to Muscle.BarbellShrugged.com. We’ve got a 100% free, 100% awesome strength eBook for you to check out.
This week on techniquewod, we’re talking about some simple and effective progressions that will help you master the strict pull-up.
If you can’t perform a dead-hang strict pull-up yet, this episode will help you get there quickly. And if you can do that, awesome! We’ll also tell you how to load the pull-up effectively so that you can keep making progress and avoid injuries.
If you can master the strict pull-up, then you’ll have absolutely no problem later on with muscle-ups and other tough gymnastics movements.
1. Start from the hang.
Keep your wrists slightly flexed and over the bar, with the thumbs wrapped all the way around. That will improve your grip and pulling strength.
Hang with your feet slightly out in front of your body, careful to maintain activated abs and a solid hollow body position. This might be hard enough on its own at the start, which is fine. Just practice. Once you can hold position for 30-seconds you’re ready to move on.
Initiate the pull-up from the very bottom, at full shoulder flexion, by drawing your shoulder blades down and back. From there you can finish the movement by pulling your chin to the bar.
Don’t curl your legs or hyperextend at any point during the pull. This compromise in mechanics will make continual progress pretty much impossible.
2. What if I can’t finish?
Here’s a simple drill you can practice.
Put a barbell in the squat rack, right at the level of your collarbone. Walk up to that bar and get into final position. Keep the very same pull-up grip. The bar should be right up next to your clavicle, with your chin just over top. Your neck should remain neutral.
All you have to do is lift your feet and keep all the same positions. Just like with the hang, practice by holding this position in 30 second bursts. In no time at all your pull-up will start to improve.
3. How should I scale?
You can work your way up to strict pull-ups a bunch of different ways. Banded pull-ups and ring rows are common examples. These are fine exercises, but the truth is that there’s very little carryover to the strict pull-up.
For better performance, you should actually make a few modifications:
- Work the rings, but place your feet up on a box and let your hips sink as low as possible. This more vertical line of pull will have more correspondence to the pull-up.
- As you get stronger, try standing on a box that’s just slightly behind the pull-up bar. Start your pull, keeping the top of your feet on the box and pushing with the legs for assistance when needed.
4. Try going slow.
This is one of the best ways to increase your pull-up strength.
Start from the top from your box. Keep your chin above the bar for 2-3 seconds, then lower your body under control, all the way down to full flexion, over about 5-10 seconds. Hold the bottom for 2-3 more seconds and you’re done.
Something like 2-3 sets of this is more than enough. But feel to increase the volume as long as you do not lose position on the descent.
5. The best ways to add weight.
With time and proper progression you will master the pull-up. And yes, sooner or later you will need to add some weight to make things harder.
The easiest thing you can do is hold a medicine ball between your legs, keeping all your key grip and body positions in mind. You can also hold a dumbbell kettlebell between your feet, both techniques work well. As you get really strong during this movement, the best thing you can do is get yourself a weighted pull-up belt.
They’re cheap and very useful.
Got a question about mastering the pull-up? Just leave a comment below, we’d love to help you out. Until then, make sure to check out Episode 181 of Barbell Shrugged. We geek out on pull-ups
Thirty days after a stem-cell transplant, Timmon Lund joined CrossFit St. Paul.
“I wanted to get healthy again.”
Nine months earlier, at 33, Lund had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The cancer limits the body’s ability to fight infection as it progresses. Chemotherapy and radiation are common treatments; stem-cell transplants are not.
CrossFit, he said, was a way to get back in shape.
But Lund only made it through the third week of the Minnesota affiliate’s month-long on-ramp program before he noticed a constriction in his neck whenever he so much as put a PVC pipe overhead. For nearly a week, his head would get swollen and he would feel dizzy. It was August 2013.
“When I relapsed, I knew it (before I saw the doctor) because I felt it.”
At that point, Lund had already endured two chemotherapy treatments—one in December 2012, the other in March 2013—before being approved for the autologous stem-cell transplant, requiring stem cells from his own body.
That constriction in his neck turned out to be a new tumor squeezing his windpipe and blood vessels. Lund began chemotherapy treatment for a third time. Doctors hoped for positive results so the former railroad supervisor could be approved for an allogeneic stem-cell transplant, requiring stem cells from a matching donor.
Treatment was every other Friday. Immediately after each session, Lund went straight to the box for a “little piece of normal.”
He said: “I threw up a lot in class.”
Still, he was gaining strength.
“My doctors could see improvements.”
The treatment worked. At first. Then it didn’t. One of his oncologists, Dr. Hengbing Wang, layered on a second chemotherapy treatment called bendamustine, a nitrogen mustard.
“They were throwing whatever they could at the wall,” Lund explained.
He added: “But it actually worked.”
The tumors were gone. Lund was still working out. And he qualified for the transplant, which would require a 30-day hospital stay. During that time, Jesse Quinn, one of CrossFit St. Paul’s coaches, stopped by to work out with Lund. Doctors discharged Lund two weeks early because he was recovering so well.
Coach Jesse Quinn (left) stopped by the hospital to work out with Lund.
Nearly 30 days after the second transplant, though, bad news came once again. A PET scan found more tumors. Lund had to undergo 25 rounds of radiation.
“That was probably the worst of all the different rounds of chemo I did,” he said. “I didn’t have a good response to that either.”
Recurring pneumonia made for multiple hospital stays.
Doctors worked to get Lund into clinical trials, racking their brains for anything that might work.
By late summer 2014, Lund was back on the bendamustine. It wasn’t working. Doctors tried other treatments.
“They were kind of at the end of the rope,” Lund said.
Now it was December. Lund had had a tumor in his liver so large he couldn’t sit up for months. All he could do was lie down and take his prescribed narcotics.
“We almost lost him,” Wang said.
The oncologist petitioned for Lund to be included in an experimental immunotherapy treatment for which he had been previously denied. He would be among the first people to ever try it. He was approved.
On Dec. 19, 2014, days after beginning the therapy, Lund was able to sit up on the couch for a couple of minutes. It was the first time he was able to do that in months.
About two months later, doctors suspended the treatment because they were concerned over Lund’s lung toxicity. Lund hasn’t needed treatment since. He had been on round-the-clock oxygen for roughly half a year and was eventually able to wean off it. He was back at CrossFit by fall 2015.
“I’m the weakest, the slowest, the last for everything, and I have no problem with that. I’m smilin’ as I tell you that,” Lund said. “I’m back at it and I love it.”
When he first showed up at CrossFit St. Paul, all he wanted was to improve his fitness.
“In hindsight—I’m not saying that CrossFit cured my cancer or anything like that—but I know in my heart that it kept me healthy enough to keep me alive to get that medicine.”
Lund believes his fitness kept him healthy enough to fight.
Lund continued: “That’s one of the reasons why, as soon as I could, I wanted to get back at it.”
Wang credited Lund’s fitness and positive attitude for his ability to endure chemotherapy, radiation and two transplants.
“(They) helped him not only physically but psychologically deal with the disease and deal with the treatment and made the whole thing easier, for sure,” the doctor said.
National cancer guidelines are now recognizing the importance of exercise for cancer patients, Wang added.
Still, Lund’s story is special, he said.
“He’s considered a miracle.”
Brian Riley was exposed to CrossFit while serving as a Marine, but an injury overseas forced him to relearn everything. Now he’s putting his experiences as an adaptive athlete to good use at CrossFit Del Mar in San Diego, California.
Riley was stationed in Afghanistan when he took a medium-machine-gun round to the lower left leg. The injury resulted in a below-the-knee amputation.
After returning home, he began attending CrossFit Del Mar’s free Wednesday classes for Wounded Warriors.
“It was kind of an eye-opening experience … how much the biomechanics change when you don’t have an ankle, and then how much stays the same,” Riley says.
Now he’s using what he’s learned about himself to help other adaptive athletes discover what they’re capable of.
We’ve had a few catchphrases over the years.
In the early days of Barbell Shrugged, I can remember scribbling, “Coffee, Tequila, Barbells” everywhere and on everything. It was silly, but also an effective way to define and state our mission. All we wanted to do was talk about training and have a great time doing it. And it worked!
The Window of Gains is a more recent example. It’s was still fun and on mission; but the goal was very different. We wanted to teach something practically and personally – With laughter.
That’s the challenge, right? There’s no shortage of theory and opinion in the field of sports nutrition. And yet, the world is overflowing with athletes who aren’t meeting their nutritional and performance goals. We have more available information than ever, so why should anyone be confused about what they need? Why should anyone argue for certainty of knowledge over action?
Our approach was to film a light-hearted show on the topic, and maybe slap a cartoon logo on the side of a shaker bottle. “People will see this and giggle,” we thought. “And then maybe they’ll remember that building a strong and adaptive body begins with a shake and a decent meal.”
This is the power of a phrase. A short, funny thing. It is a trigger. It is your spark. A real path of action, and results, and truly profound change.
Time to d3&t
Yes, we’ve had a few phrases over the years. Some were funny, a few were even useful. But only one phrase has proven durable and real enough to serve as our default battle flag, our rallying cry.
It doesn’t look like much at first. It doesn’t even make sense – d3&t, what is that?
The name itself is very easy to explain. To d3&t means to, “Drop Everything & Train.” As it suggests, this is a call to action. Actually, our exact call to action. The “3” in the title points to 3 o’clock, our sanctioned training time. But all the real power here is contained in the depth.
Real knowledge is about taking action. And this particular action of “dropping everything” works at three distinct, body-strengthening, life-changing levels.
Begin and discover for yourself.
Level 1 – Establish the practice
There are countless ways your training could go poorly. There are so many variables at play, so many possible goals to chase, and like I said, there’s so much theory to consider.
And it’s true, you’re going to get lost and fuck up eventually, probably more than a few times. But this is the only way that you can truly learn. In time, and with enough of the fuck-ups, you’ll start to notice that successful training means nothing more than restarting and recommitting again every day.
On balance, you will have good days and very bad days. The weights will feel light, and sometimes immovable. And toughest of all, there will be moments where the entire world feels like a barrier between you and the barbell.
That’s when you’ll make the real decisions. Day by day, will you choose to drop everything? Will you do the work?
Level 2 – Focus your intent
Touching the barbell is always a plus, but still just a start. There’s still more that needs to drop.
You might guess that the plan is very important, and it is. But it can also be a big distraction in any gym or training space. There are many great programs, written by many amazing, highly capable coaches. But as map in your hands, that program isn’t worth much on its own.
Vision and earnestness do all the driving.
So, drop everything. Every distraction of your life. Every urge that tells you to try something new, or something else, or something fancier and more complex. Drop anything that serves to divide your intent.
Go ahead, you know the answer. The time is now. There’s only the barbell, this first lift of your training session. So give the moment all the focus it deserves. Give it everything you have, and pay very close attention to the results.
You’ll quickly discover that intent is almost everything.
Level 3 and beyond – Remove the expectations
If you want to achieve extraordinary results, focus your attention. Do not try to take on everything all of the times.
But with that, it’s important to say that even focus has its limitations. Consider that the world is filled with tremendously strong and fit people who don’t feel that way inside. They might win more races than they lose, or lift immense loads, but they can’t keep from chasing bigger results.
I don’t want to discourage you, the opposite is true. You should pursue a meaningful goal, something you. Don’t stop until you realize that goal. But you should also realize that the most powerful kind of action isn’t anchored to the result.
You’ve heard of Yoga, right? Sure, there’s the physical, bendy, sweaty, incense-infused kind of Yoga. But then again, there’s a more ancient, fundamental, flowing kind of Yoga. Something for the body and the mind. More of a verb than noun, I guess.
It’s called Flow, bliss, or even just happiness. It’s not a thing to get, but the natural byproduct of a still, trained, soothed mind.
It starts happening when you get lost in a book, spin thread, write, garden, or shoot baskets alone in the backyard.
It is the high that hits the runner mid-marathon, and it’s what you can experience at will in the gym as soon as you stop caring about how strong you look.
That means the burdens of your daily grind, your attachments, and your expectations for what you must become and achieve. Let it go for a while.
Just load a barbell. Grab a weight. Move and fuck around. Play! Express your skills as efficiently as possible, without any worry or concern for how much you’re lifting or the work you’re not accomplishing. That’s it, the only trick.
Once you stop worrying about the result you can finally lift for yourself. This is an opportunity to get lost with the barbell, to have a deeply rewarding time, and to connect with yourself. You will leave those sessions with a steady and clear mind, which ultimately means you will be far more effective out in the world and with the people you love.
That’s what d3&t really means to us – It’s freedom through training. Live that, and you’ll do far more than break records in the gym.
Now, go train.
PHOTOCREDIT: FOUR BARREL CROSSFIT
Recovery isn’t just foam rolling, alpha balls, messing around with resistance bands and romwod!
Recovery is as important or maybe even more than the training itself. How and what you do to recover from that training can define your success moving forward. If you’re putting enough appropriate emphasis on it, recovery is what lets you get back out there day after day. There’s a lot to digest here so let’s get right into it. The points below are not mutually exclusive. These are to be implemented as part of your daily regimen with some auto-regulation by you in the areas that need more focus:
Duh? Right. Well, if you knew this already why aren’t getting enough of it? Get more. It’s not just the number of hours slept but the quality of sleep. Start a ritual to get you ready for bed at least an hour before hitting the sack – turn off all electronics and don’t keep any near you. If your phone doubles as an alarm clock, put it in a different room. This will also help you get out of bed instead of snoozing for 20 minutes. Better yet, go without an alarm clock because if you’re getting the right amount of high quality sleep you will actually wake up on your own. Great snooze aids are foam rolling or reading an autobiography – no exciting romance novels or horror. When someone goes to bed depends on his or her schedule but keep that bedroom cool and pitch black. We all love pre-workouts but depending on when you work out and when you plan to go to bed, these can destroy your sleep. If you’re going to rock out on 4 cups of coffee in a scoop, do it before noon. General rule is no caffeine for at least 6 hours before bedtime. Besides electronics and caffeine another consideration is timing and size of your evening meal. I’ve kept a journal and discovered that larger meals, especially those with a larger portion of carbs, closer to bed time don’t promote a restful night. Try to give yourself a good 2, maybe even 3 hours after your last large meal.
Experiment and Sleep tight.
Another obvious one. Not so fast, my friend. This can be rather tricky. Most of us are familiar with the Paleo model but eating for performance can be different. The body needs to fuel to run like a well-oiled machine and to recover. That means you might need to throw in some extra “good” carbs to replenish the glycogen stores after you just went all out in that WOD (more on that in a bit). Personally, when eating strict Paleo I was hungry all the time. If you notice your performance suffering (not hitting the numbers or feel tired consistently) it’s either lack of sleep or not enough nutrition to support your training. Some of us might actually need to lose a few pounds, meaning eating less in total volume but dialing it in on the nutritional content. The old adage goes that to get stronger you need to bulk up but sometimes too much bulk can be a detriment; it may take longer for your body to recover if you are carrying more weight around. The workouts themselves are more taxing on the nervous system. Thus, another option might be to lean out. I feel better over all, have more energy, and move better in my workouts since I cut down from my bulking phase. You can think of it in relative terms, as well. How much you can lift in relation to your body weight is key, especially in terms of metrics (think Whiteboard). Yes, we all want to be jacked but after a certain point most strength adaptations are derived at the neurological level and not from increased hypertrophy.
Incorrect form will absolutely wreak havoc on your body. We normally don’t notice it during a workout due to adrenaline and endorphins, plus that pre-workout from before makes us feel invincible. The shearing and compressive forces due to poor movement make our bodies work overtime, not only during the WOD, but long thereafter. It might not be today, tomorrow, or next week, but you are wasting tremendous amount of energy trying to recuperate and the residual effects of poor technique are not kind.
#4 INTENSITY OF TRAINING
Yes, we want to push our body to the absolute limit. This might sound like blasphemy but there is a time and place for that. Depending on your skill level, strength, endurance, age, etc. going to the max everyday or every workout isn’t necessarily a recipe for growth and development. Realistically speaking, the everyday workout is not the CrossFit games and you don’t have to treat it as such. Get better. Get stronger. But you can only do that if you have gas left in the tank. Making that tank bigger takes time. If you puncture it too soon, you will leak energy and drag until that rest day comes around. Pick your spots wisely because what seems like a 5 minute WOD can tax you more than a 30-minute AMRAP based on how you approach it. Again, plan for today, the next workout, next week.
Ask yourself and be honest with the answer, do you as a coach or if you’re an athlete; does your gym, program specifically for recovery? As part of your daily workout do you include or go through specific mobility protocols or is it something you tend to have to figure out on your own as an athlete? In many gyms, this happens to be an after thought; others do take the extra step and program for recovery. Another aspect of your environment is everything that happens outside of the gym before and after training. How conducive is your lifestyle, occupation, and even relationships to helping you and allowing your body to rest appropriately?
Foam rolling. Smashing. Ice baths. Active rest. Massages. Banded distractions, massage balls, and muscle floss. The list goes on and on! There are a variety of techniques, tools, and resources available to us. Do it! Attack the tricky and problem areas. If you have trouble diagnosing them, ask your coach or see a specialist.
Make recovery a part of your daily routine and lifestyle. If you’ve never thought about it or do it sporadically, ask yourself why. For example, I started waking up 20 minutes early to make sure I get mobility work in every day. Among other reasons, I gave up drinking alcohol, which has been a huge boost too. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on habit development but don’t try to take on the universe, start small and with one thing. Once you have that down add to the foundation and keep building.
Who likes doing chores? Washing dishes? Taking out the trash? If you’re approaching recovery as something you have to do it might not be as enjoyable. Think of it as a game. For example mobility you can do it with a super friend to smash your quads. Or a reward for yourself: if today I go 90%, tomorrow I get to go 110% in my workout.
The one thing we cannot absolutely live without yet nobody really pays attention to it. As you were reading this how many times did you actually stop and think about how you are breathing, the depth of your breath, is it through your mouth or your nose, using only the chest or including the belly? The great folks at WODPrep had an awesome video on the secret to Rich Froning’s success and it had to do with controlled breathing. Breathing can both energize and calm you, especially during crucial workouts or life events.
Recovery is not just about the physical. Training and the nuances of daily life can take a toll on us mentally. Great practices to offset these are mindfulness and meditation. This can take many forms, as well. You can meditate in a lotus position in a traditional approach or you can be in a state of flow in training, for example. Avoiding distractions and being present allows us to relish in the moment and not be bogged down by the tension, and stressors of our environment – see point 5. Being present and more positive can also improve overall attitude – see point 8.
There you have it, the 10 Rules of Recovery. If you’re missing one, add it to your personal arsenal, free of charge 🙂 Homework is to incorporate one starting tomorrow. Recover on and PR tomorrow.
P.S. MAKE SURE YOU DRINK PLENTY OF WATER.
Pawel Wencel is CrossFit Level 1 certified and the Co-Creator Of Uncharted Performance, a website and podcast dedicated to pushing the boundaries of performance inside and outside the gym. For more of Uncharted Performance check out www.unchartedperformance.com, YouTube and iTunes. Follow them on Facebook,Instagram and Twitter.
CrossFit Injuries: Four Major Mistakes Athletes Make
Google “CrossFit injury,” and you’ll be introduced to a slew of major news publications harshly critiquing CrossFit and its training methods. There’s an endless list of complaints associated with experiences involving injuries, puking, rhabdo — it goes on and on.
From an outside perspective (or a poorly guided inside perspective), those things might represent a badge of honor; pushing past your physical limitations and providing bodily evidence of having done so. But the reports do not address that the bulk of complaints are not a result of CrossFit itself, but rather something lacking from that individual experience. The unfortunate part of CrossFit is that each box is not created equal, and each athlete is not provided comparable experience and guidance.
Every box is responsible for programming, equipment and hiring coaches without any real requirements enforced. I hate to dismiss the legitimacy of an affiliation or accreditation, but I must acknowledge that a box is only as good as what happens inside its walls. Despite the standard high-intensity workouts and the use of the word CrossFit, the examples being set in boxes vary on a scale that begins with nonexistent. If high standards aren’t set AND maintained by your coaches, your community and yourself, injuries will undoubtedly ensue.
Many injuries cited by CrossFit participants come from a small list of mistakes:
Avoiding Fundamentals Training
Most gyms require a Fundamentals series prior to participation in regular classes. If you come across a box that doesn’t, beware. To dive into a high-intensity training regimen that requires a number of movements that are likely to involve some skill development, you must have a solid foundation.
Even after Fundamentals courses, your “basic training” shouldn’t end. You MUST ease into and practice foreign movements regularly and master the skill itself before adding weight or attempting anything a step beyond. Exhibit some patience in the beginning. Building upon a weak foundation can only result in endless repairs. Be smart and feel structurally sound before you move on.
Overlooking the Need to Observe
Credentials don’t always tell the whole story when it comes to CrossFit coaches. Before you commit to any box, be sure you stop in and watch a class and coach in action. You’ll want to look for coaches who are verbal, member-focused, provide individual instruction, and are encouraging. Without those characteristics, a coach provides little value to your experience and may overlook a potentially hazardous situation. You’re looking for leadership with regards to your health and fitness goals, so be sure you’re placing yourself in good hands; it will set the tone for your entire experience.
Dismissing the Developmental Process
Babies aren’t born with the ability to walk. Development, practice and new neuronal connections provide the means to master most physical skills. So when joining a box, you can’t expect to be an expert in everything. Whether you are an avid runner, a former collegiate lifter or have zero athletic background, you will come across unfamiliar territory at some point.
And when you get there, remember that you must teach your body with repetitions, constant corrections and, sometimes, physical cues. If you know that your squat is consistently higher than 90 degrees, place a wall-ball under your bum as a physical cue for where that perfect point is. Your body will pick up on it, and eventually when you remove that ball, you’ll have the habit of proper range of motion. Seek feedback for any verbal cues that you can’t quite pick up on and focus on getting in tune with your core and extremities and how they react and engage.
Engaging Your Ego
It’s no secret that there’s a facet of CrossFit committed to competition. In the best scenarios, a person will use the clock, their peers and the whiteboard to establish a point of reference and bring the best out in their workout.
An ego, on the other hand, blinds an athlete to self-awareness and shifts his energies to everybody else in the room. Rest days disappear, workouts are done too heavy, and the whiteboard consumes him. And regardless of what feedback a coach provides, that athlete can’t brush away the nagging feeling of having to outdo everybody else. So screw the ego and remember that CrossFit is about specializing in not specializing. It’s not designed to have the same “winner” every time, and your focus should be on doing YOUR best, not doing THE best.
You wouldn’t buy a house with a weak foundation. You wouldn’t take your child to a daycare you hadn’t stopped into and checked out. You wouldn’t try a back flip on a balance beam without prior training. And you wouldn’t sprint past a stop sign without looking just to beat your friend across the street. So proceed with a little caution and some common sense and the assurance that if you make the right choices in your CrossFit journey, you’re bound to have a healthy and happy experience.
SHOULD YOU NOT SCALE YOUR NEXT WORKOUT?
By Maria Roselle
When workouts are written “as prescribed” (recognized by the “RX” annotation that many gyms use), they are the hardest variation of that workout. Some boxes go a step further and introduce scaled versions of the same workout, labeled Level I and Level II (or whichever annotation is preferred). By doing this, it gives athletes of varying fitness levels the option to utilize weights and movements that they can realistically do while keeping the workout challenging. However, there comes a time when the workouts start to become easier and they need to be scaled less. How do you make that jump from one level to the next?
After doing CrossFit for some time, there’s a good chance you will be able to complete the workout as prescribed. If not, you will have the experience to know exactly how to scale down in order to make the workout challenging but manageable—the way it is intended to be performed. For those of you who are newer to CrossFit, it’s not always easy knowing what weights to use and how to scale various skills.
I constantly see new athletes who are getting stronger day after day and still using the same weights and modifications they started with when they first burst out of foundations. When I approach them to ask why, it’s usually because they thought the next level would be too difficult. However, they have made their workout too easy and are finished 5 minutes before everyone else. They are staying within their comfort zone and are therefore not going to gain as much from the workout. In fact, they will suffer for it.
A great example of this can be seen through ring dips. We all know that regardless of how strong you are and how long you have been doing CrossFit, ring dips can dominate you. Mid-way through the workout you hit muscle failure and start to struggle to string three together, when you are capable of much more when you’re fresh. However, this is an exercise you can make too easy. Like I said, you will be hitting muscle failure. An athlete using a band and doing all of the prescribed reps unbroken is not challenging themselves. Yes, I want them to get through the workout, but I don’t want them to do it with a smile on their face. I want them to struggle. I want them to have a sense of accomplishment after the workout. This is how they will one day get unassisted ring dips. This is how they will get results.
So how do you know when it’s time to scale up?
Here are some signs to look out for:
– Finishing first on the majority of workouts.
– When you’re able to hold a normal conversation immediately after the workout.
– Feeling like it “wasn’t that hard” and you could probably do it again after a two minute break.
– Doing everything unbroken, when you see everyone taking breaks after several reps.
-Lack of sweat and muscle fatigue
If any of the above describes you, take some chances and scale up when you are able to. Try adding 5 to 10 pounds on your lifts or a harder modification on a bodyweight movement. If it’s hard and you need to take breaks…well, good–it’s supposed to be. Worst-case scenario is that you’ve scaled up too much for a particular workout and you need to bring it back down in order to complete the workout. If this happens, don’t worry. Keep making the minor adjustments to continually challenge yourself until you reach the RX level.
Keep your eye on someone who always goes RX. If you feel like you are struggling just as much as they are, you are probably modifying appropriately. If you watch them and feel thankful that you’re not experiencing the same pain, you probably need to up your game a little.
When to scale down:
Sometimes workouts are programmed to condition the athlete with lighter weights so they can move fast through them. Other times the intention is to provide more of a strength aspect during the WOD. The best advice is to ask and listen to your coach. Sometimes you might be able to perform the workout with the RX weight, but that particular weight is supposed to feel light to perform it fast. Take Fran for example: Fran is done with ‘light’ weight and the entire workout can be done in less than 5 minutes. The coach should explain this to you so you can find a suitable weight. If Fran is taking you 12+ minutes, you’ve scaled incorrectly, and completed a totally different workout to what was prescribed. What was meant to be a quick sprint to challenge your metabolic conditioning has now turned into more of a strength and endurance workout.
Take your chances and get outside your comfort zone, since you’re not supposed to be there anyway. There are going to be times that you will not choose accurate modifications, and that’s ok. It’s a learning process.
Like many top CrossFit Games athletes, Nicholas Paladino, Angelo DiCicco and Vincent Ramirez begin their days with a workout—the first of several daily training sessions that total six to eight hours of work.
But unlike podium finishers a few years their senior—Paladino and DiCicco won the 16-17 and 14-15 Teenage Boys Divisions of the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games; Ramirez took third in the 14-15 Division—these fitness fiends punctuate their days not with coaching or administrative work, but with English and economics.
More than 7,550 teenagers competed in the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games Open alone, and as CrossFit athletes get younger and fitter—at 16, DiCicco matches CrossFit Games veteran Chris Spealler’s snatch PR of 235 lb.—some of CrossFit’s top teens are forgoing traditional high school education in favor of more flexible options like homeschooling and online classes.
“I’ve never really looked back,” said 17-year-old Paladino, who graduated in February from Penn Foster Online High School after completing two years’ worth of coursework in just six months. “This has turned out really well for me; I’m pretty happy with my decision.”
Paladino found CrossFit online in 2014, partway through his freshman year at Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, New Jersey. A promising running back and linebacker with dreams of pro ball, he joined CrossFit Steam in March 2014 to add an edge to his game. It took only a few months for him to realize he loved training more than the game, and a few weeks before his sophomore year, he quit the team to focus on CrossFit.
“It was cool to see that I can do what I love, which is train, and actually be competitive at it,” he said.
He consumed all the CrossFit videos he could find online, especially those offering glimpses into the life of multi-year Games champion Rich Froning. Paladino was struck by Froning’s training volume, doing more work in a day than some do in a week.
“I thought, ‘I want to do that,’ because that would take my training in CrossFit to the next level,” Paladino recounted. But even without the rigorous football practice schedule he had been previously tied to, with school occupying him from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and homework to boot, there weren’t enough hours in the day. He broached the subject of online school with his parents.
“I knew that if I wanted to be at (Froning’s) level … being in the gym for that long would benefit me,” he said. “I just decided that if there was a way to make more time to train and still get my schoolwork done, I would definitely like to do that.”
His parents weren’t on board at first.
“I wasn’t ready yet,” Patty Paladino, Nicholas’ mother, said. “I really wanted to see where (Nicholas’ CrossFit career) was going to go.”
She told him to win the CrossFit Games and then they’d talk.
“So he won the CrossFit Games,” Patty said, laughing.
One gold medal later, Nicholas was enrolled in Penn Foster Online High School. But it wasn’t without some serious thought on Patty’s part. Before sealing the deal, she spent weeks speaking with the teachers and administration at Bergen Catholic, as well as Nicholas’ coaches at CrossFit Steam.
“I wanted everybody’s input, because I knew I was gonna be taking Nick away from being a teenager, taking him out of school,” she said. “And they all explained to me that child athletes, a good majority of them, school from home, because of the intense workouts they do and the time they spend in the gym.”
As she reflected on Nicholas’ already packed schedule, leaving for school by 7 a.m. each morning, spending the evening on homework and training well into the night, she knew it would only get more challenging for her son.
“His coaches also told me that (at) next year’s CrossFit Games, the kids are going to be better,” she said. “These kids know they have to come close to Nick to win. So the kids have been working out more intense, which means Nick’s been working out more intense, and then after this year he goes into the adult Games, which will only get more intense for him.”
“Just this year alone it seems more competitive than last year,” Nicholas said.
Encouraged by the feedback from Nicholas’ coaches and teachers, Patty agreed they would give online school a shot, provided he kept his grades up. When he earned his diploma in February with a 3.9 GPA just a month before winning the Teenage Boys 16-17 Division in the 2016 Open, she knew she’d made the right choice.
“I am beyond proud of Nick; I want to cry when I think about it,” she said.
With the freedom to move through the curriculum at his own pace, Paladino doubled his workload, his eyes on a Games-prep season free of homework. He studied for two hours each morning before going to the gym, hitting the books again at lunch. Another study or test-taking session around 7 p.m. brought his total “school day” to around four hours, with plenty of time for training and recovery throughout.
The extra volume, he said, is what helped him increase his snatch, back squat and deadlift from 245, 365 and 515 lb. last July to 265, 405 and 535 lb. today, in addition to shearing 2 minutes off his Amanda time from 5:32 at the Games to just over 3-and-a-half minutes. Less crunched training sessions have also allowed him to devote more time to accessory movements like sandbag, GHD and odd-object work, and he appreciates having more time for shut-eye. “Just about an hour more (of) sleep has made a huge difference in how I feel,” he said.
Though Nicholas is planning to enroll in college eventually—possibly continuing the online program through Penn Foster—right now, his focus is “100 percent on the Games in July,” he said. One day, he hopes to own his own affiliate. Whatever he does, he has the support of his family.
“He proved to me over the last couple of years what CrossFit means to him, (and) I guess I have to trust him,” Patty said. “He just has a love and a passion for CrossFit … and he has worked harder in my eyes than anyone to get where he is. I’m just in awe of him and so proud of him, and I trust him.”
Training Smarter, Not Harder
For Vincent Ramirez, 15, the decision to abandon the brick-and-mortar schoolhouse was less about volume and more about recovery time. After one year at Oskaloosa High School in Iowa, he began homeschooling in the fall after taking home the bronze at his first CrossFit Games appearance last July.
“I feel better now because I can break (training) up into two sessions instead of having to do all the WODs in one session,” he said. “I can give my body a rest between each workout.”
Ramirez fell in love with competition after taking fifth place in a local throwdown in 2014. After following up the performance with a second-place Open finish in 2015, he upped his training from one or two hours each day to around four to prepare for his Carson debut. He did all of the work—multiple strength sessions and metcons—in one jam-packed session after school each day. The work paid off with a podium finish and a newfound passion.
“I found out this is what I truly love to do and want to do for the rest of my life,” he said.
Still, he doubted he could keep up the routine without consequences.
“My body was just too tired to keep on doing that amount of workouts in that short of time,” he said. “(The fatigue) was mostly mental, too, because your mind tells you you’re tired (and) then your body follows your mind.”
Remembering conversations with older teenage athletes at the Games, some of whom had become homeschooled to make more time for training, he appealed to his parents.
His father, Rey Ramirez, was set against it, mostly for fear that Vincent would be unable to play traditional sports if he withdrew from school. Raquel Ramirez, Vincent’s mother, however, was an easy sell.
“I was all for it,” she said. After marrying young and and forgoing many of her own ambitions to have children, she encourages Vincent, his brother and his sister to follow their dreams.
“I always told my kids if you know at a young age what you want to do, all you have to do is tell me, and you can go ahead and try it,” she said. “And he knows. I can see it already. He wants to be a trainer and compete in the CrossFit Games, and I don’t think you need a degree for that.”
The family met in the middle with dual enrollment: While mostly homeschooled by the parents of Will Kminek, Vincent’s friend and training partner, he would remain partially enrolled at Oskaloosa High School, granting him the right to take additional courses like foreign languages at the high school and to play for the football team, which he plans to do next year.
The benefit to schooling from home, Vincent said, is no time wasted on lunch periods or class transition time.
“In school if you get (your work) done, you still have to wait in class,” he said. “So now if I get my English done I can move straight on to history or science or math.”
Ramirez and Kminek typically study two subjects in the morning at Kminek’s home before heading to CrossFit OFC for their first training session. After lunch, they return home for another set of classes and cap off the day with an evening workout.
After eight months of homeschooling, Ramirez is happy with his choice. He sees his school friends at sporting events and on the weekends, and having more time to rest between sessions, he said, has helped him make both physical and mental gains. Since the Games, he’s increased his clean and jerk from 270 to 300 lb. and his snatch from 205 to 235 lb.
“I have more confidence,” he said. “Now since I let my body rest, I can get more energy and I feel more confident.”
Training For the Future
Like Ramirez, 16-year-old Cookeville, Tennessee, native DiCicco opted to homeschool after the Games last year in order to “train smarter instead of cramming stuff all in one time period,” he said.
He used to perform several metcons back-to-back in the hour or two after school and before homework.
“I was just destroying myself more than I needed to,” he said. “I would always have the volume high but the intensity not as high as it could be. And having intensity high makes more gains.”
DiCicco played baseball and lacrosse, and ran in cross-country until he discovered CrossFit at the end of seventh grade. Seeing Rich Froning on the cover of one his mother’s fitness magazines had sparked his interest, and having Froning and Dan Bailey stop by his middle school to lead the kids through a workout cemented it. That day he asked Froning if he could take a class at CrossFit Mayhem. One year later, as a high-school freshman DiCicco won his first local throwdown and fell in love with the thrill of competition.
“Just the feeling of being in front of a crowd felt good,” he said. “I liked having people cheering me on; I liked pushing myself and seeing how far I could go.”
It was during his debut Games performance that he learned of an alternative to single, crammed training sessions. Between events, Nairobi Romero—who would take seventh in the Teenage Girls 16-17 Division that year—told DiCicco how much more flexible her schedule became after she chose to homeschool.
But it wasn’t just about having more time to train. Now looking back after more than eight months of homeschooling, the arrangement “has also gotten me away from all of the high school kids who are very small-minded and judgmental,” DiCicco said.
For years before he found CrossFit, DiCicco was mocked in school for his vitiligo, a condition in which the skin loses its pigment, dotting the body with bright white patches.
“It was really difficult (for Angelo) to deal with that,” said Cheryl DiCicco, Angelo’s mother. “And when he found CrossFit, he really started to flourish. It made him happy to have that environment that CrossFit offers of acceptance.”
But just as his fellow students stopped mocking Angelo for his skin, they found something new to judge him for: his love for CrossFit.
“I wasn’t the outcast, but I wasn’t the cool kid, and lots of kids in my school are extremely hypocritical about CrossFit,” he said. “They say it’s not a real sport, that I’m wasting my time.”
Cheryl knew little of the bullying until during some downtime at the Games last summer, Angelo’s girlfriend showed her a YouTube video some students—some of whom were top athletes for the high school football team—had made, mocking Angelo’s love for training.
“Why would that type of bullying be allowed in this day and age?” Cheryl said. “It’s still completely slipped under the rug and it’s appalling.”
After he won the Games (14-15 Division), DiCicco got more followers on Instagram but didn’t get more true friends.
“Once I won the Games I picked up a few friendships that I don’t think were very genuine,” Angelo said. “I (was) the kid who goes to our high school who has a lot of followers on Instagram. That’s why they wanted to be my friend.”
And so though Cheryl and her husband, John DiCicco, were initially concerned that homeschooling might make it more difficult for Angelo to get into college, they agreed that giving him a more positive school environment would be better in the long run.
“I finally looked at my husband and it just kind of became crystal clear,” Cheryl said. “I said, ‘You know what? People go to college online all day, every day; we’re not holding him back.’ CrossFit is a wonderful, positive environment, and when you’re surrounded by that and it finally makes you feel good, why (would) you want to sit in a classroom where you’re made fun of all day?”
Today, Angelo splits his time between training and studying, often traveling across the country to compete and visit his girlfriend, who lives in Iowa. His homeschool teacher, a professor at the local community college, also trains at CrossFit Mayhem, and since making the switch, Angelo’s grades have gone up. The difference is almost palpable, Cheryl said.
“He’s so much more happy,” she said. “It’s like a weight was lifted off of his shoulders. The whole homeschooling thing isn’t about secluding yourself. I believe truly it’s more about picking and choosing your surroundings.”
“I love how I’m only surrounded with the people who will positively influence me in every way,” Angelo said.
Cheryl stressed that homeschooling isn’t about avoiding dealing with uncomfortable situations or responsibility.
“I don’t think it’s teaching our youth to run away from their problems,” she said. “Quite the contrary. I think it’s teaching them how to handle a problem in a constructive manner. If you are having problems at work … you try to deal with them in the best way you can, and if it doesn’t work out, what do you do? You look to better yourself and better your career path by finding a better job, a better fit.”
She said homeschooling also gives Angelo the freedom to make his own schedule, finishing school while competing and building relationships with sponsors, developing career-building skills that Cheryl doubts he would have had the chance to hone in traditional high school.
“At the high school level, homeschooling is more about the teen taking on responsibility,” she said. “It’s training him to look ahead.”
Last fall, Angelo arranged meetings with a number of sponsors, many of which he has gone on to share fruitful relationships with.
“How many kids do you know in a regular, formal school setting that think outside the box like that?” Cheryl said. “I think (homeschooling) helps these kids, especially kids that might be challenged in some way, to think outside the box and show them that there are more solutions.”
“I think I have learned the same amount … as I would have in (traditional) school along with all of the real-world knowledge I have from being with people who are much further in life than I am,” Angelo said. “I can definitely stay focused on the right path to do well in both CrossFit and school not dealing with the stress of having people who are out to hurt you mentally and emotionally. CrossFit is all about (having) great values and being a wholesome person all around, and my new friends through CrossFit always teach me that.”